In 2003 the field of Arctic research was significantly advanced by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for World Ocean and Polar Regions Studies between NOAA and the Russian Academy of Sciences. This groundbreaking agreement paved the way for a new level of collaboration between these two countries in their ongoing efforts to understand the dynamics of the Arctic sea region. The Russian-American Long-term Census of the Arctic (RUSALCA) program was the first research program initiated under this MOU, aimed at studying the ocean carbon cycle and the impacts of ocean acidification on the marine environment in the rapidly changing Arctic Ocean.
Since the initial expedition in 2004, the RUSALCA project has collected a wealth of data on the Bering and Chukchi Seas, including valuable information on the:
- Flux of fresh and salt water in the region;
- Heat flux between the Arctic and the rest of the world’s ocean;
- Distribution and migration patterns of organisms (including fish, marine mammals, and animals living on top and within the sediments) in both seas;
- Changes in nutrients, chlorophyll, and phytoplankton composition, as well as primary production;
- Geochemistry of sedimentation in the region; and,
- Bacterioplankton and methane content in the water column.
Scientists working on RUSALCA received good news earlier this year in the form of additional funding from NOAA to synthesize the myriad ocean carbon measurements collected in earlier phases of the project, including dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), total alkalinity (TA), and dissolved organic carbon (DOC). By synthesizing and interpreting these data, then comparing the results with other complementary datasets, scientists can:
- Assess changes in the air-sea flux of carbon dioxide;
- Assess the impacts of ocean acidification on the western Arctic Ocean, including potential impacts on calcifying marine organisms;
- Develop a complete set of seawater carbonate chemistry measurements; and
- Test the hypothesis that rapid environmental changes (e.g., warming, sea-ice retreat, etc.) in the Arctic create conditions of similarly rapid change in air-sea carbon dioxide fluxes, community production rates, and ocean acidification impacts.
Dr. Nick Bates, Senior Scientist and Associate Director of Research at BIOS, is the Principal Investigator for the ocean carbon cycle portion of RUSALCA and one of the scientists composing the US scientific team. He recently remarked that, “The collaboration between the US and Russia has paved the way for US and Russian scientists to observe and understand rapid changes in the circulation, sea-ice feedbacks and chemistry of the western Arctic Ocean waters and the responses of the ocean biological community to rapid environmental change in the Arctic.”